Anxiety Remedies?
March 13, 2010 6:19 PM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations for (legal) herbal or natural remedies for anxiety.

I don't want to take prescription medication, and I am not interested in therapy. For the sake of this question, just trust me that these are informed choices. Rather, I am hoping for personal recommendations of herbs and other natural remedies that are effective and can be taken on a regular basis for anxiety (not panic attacks, just pretty high levels of anxiety all the time). I don't think that outside stressors are causing the anxiety; I think it is mainly a biological thing. I know I need to quit caffeine, and I am working on that. I have tried getting massages and it just doesn't help me much. I take vitamins every day. I am a female in my 30s, if that's relevant. I just don't want to waste my money on a bunch of herbal remedies without recommendations from people who have tried them, so please share your good and bad experiences.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
You may want to check out this question, which has a long discussion of the merits of over-the-counter psychotropic medication.
posted by decathecting at 6:26 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Beer is pretty good for this. Hops count as an herb, right?
posted by mr_roboto at 6:29 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I use Valerian Root in capsule form. It really helps me a lot.

My husband lost his job a year ago and so we lost our insurance. I had to stop taking my anxiety prescription and started taking the Valerian Root instead. I like the Valerian better than my prescription, although it doesn't help me at all with my depression issues the way my prescription did.

The Valerian helps me get myself under control, and even helps with my panic attacks. The bottle says I can take 3 capsules 3x a day, but I rarely need that much. I usually take one or two in the morning, and three at bed to help me sleep. If I'm having an especially bad day I may take one or two more in the afternoon. Lately I've only been taking it at night two or three times a week, so I don't think there is a problem with becoming dependant on it.

The only side effect that I've ever had is that sometimes I have a smelly burp after I take it. The stuff smells like dirty socks, so the occasional burp smells the same. Valerian also comes in a tea form, but it smells so nasty I don't know how anyone could drink it! The capsules are much easier to stomach.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:31 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]



Beer is pretty good for this. Hops count as an herb, right?

+1 to that.

I would say first look at your lifestyle and either take on a relaxing activity or reduce other stress causing activities. Many times just getting out twice a week on a walk in a park can help out a ton. Start looking at things in your life (make a list) and see which ones are the stress causers (how would I feel is "A" never had to be done again?). This is where people make life changing career changes.

I suggest meetup.com as a great place to find groups that may strike an interest with you and maybe get you into activities you never thought of before.
posted by zombieApoc at 6:41 PM on March 13, 2010


I've used 5HTP 100 mg in the morning. Very effective.
posted by kch at 6:43 PM on March 13, 2010


Valerian is said to work, as is St. John's Wort. St. John's Wort apparently inhibits reuptake of serotonin, which is what Prozac/Zoloft/Lexapro/etc. all do, as well. In fact, people on SSRIs like those are told not to take St. John's Wort because of the risk of serotonin syndrome.

IANAD - I'm basically you, a woman in her 30s with high anxiety levels. I've never taken anything herbal, so I can't speak from experience about that, but I can say that there are a lot of free relaxation MP3s floating around on the web that have helped me a lot. I subscribe to the Inner Health Studio relaxation podcast, but there are a lot of others out there.
posted by Madame Psychosis at 6:47 PM on March 13, 2010


Jasmine tea is soothing and relaxing.
posted by hermitosis at 7:01 PM on March 13, 2010


Uh, I think the people here recommending BEER don't really understand anxiety. Seriously, you're recommending a depressant ? As someone who suffers from anxiety, I struggle with alcohol to a tremendous degree. One beer is about the best I can do on a typical night, and even then I feel pretty lousy afterwards.

Really, unless you understand mental illness, you should be careful what you say. Alcohol is never a good idea, and if you believe that eliminating "stress causers" is enough to take care of an anxiety disorder, you're basically talking like a Scientologist and denying that there's an underlying biological problem. Sure, a walk in the park is nice, but it's not going to cure a flu, cancer, or any mental illness.

To the OP, is it possible to switch to a prescription of clonazepam, or another benzodiazepam? They're all quite cheap, and while they're not the best drugs in the world for anxiety, they're quite good. I take clono right now as part of my drug regimen and I find it can work wonders, depending on my mood.

On another note, I have a nice package of non-smelly Valerian Root tea, so I can vouch for its existence.
posted by hiteleven at 7:05 PM on March 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


I've just started trying out some anxiety remedies myself lately. A few that I've uncovered in my research so far are:

Kava Kava - I bought this as a tincture the other day...I've only taken one dose and the effects were noticeable but subtle. I might just need to work on the dosage. It tastes like absolute shit - mix with juice.

L-Theanine - I bought a bottle of pills a couple weeks ago, and have taken it a few times. Personally I haven't noticed much in terms of anxiety/stress reduction, but I've heard lots of good anecdotal reports. It might just be my weird brain chemistry.

Phenibut - Haven't found this one yet...I might just buy it online. I've heard really good things. The only downside is you build a tolerance very quickly, so it's not something you can take more than a few times each week. But still, if it works as well as some people claim, it'll be a good substitute for as-needed benzos.

The other thing I saw at my local pharmacy was just called GABA, and it was kind of an anxiolytic cocktail including a whole bunch of different supplements. I might pick that up soon.

Also look here.

Good luck!
posted by pilibeen at 7:07 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Uh, I think the people here recommending BEER don't really understand anxiety. Seriously, you're recommending a depressant ?
...
To the OP, is it possible to switch to a prescription of clonazepam, or another benzodiazepam?


You realize that benzodiazepines are a classic example of pharmaceutical depressants, right?

Alcohol is never a good idea, and if you believe that eliminating "stress causers" is enough to take care of an anxiety disorder, you're basically talking like a Scientologist and denying that there's an underlying biological problem.

Eh. If you're going to forgo medical advice completely, as the asker intends to, why not just go whole hog? Beer's cheap, at least.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:22 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would be a little wary of 5-HTP, especially when taken regularly. It can be metabolized into serotonin in the liver, which can cause heart valve problems: see here.

You might want to take a look at L-tryptophan. It's converted into 5-HTP, but my understanding is that the conversion is much more regulated outside of the brain, so there shouldn't be any problems. Whole Foods sells 500mg capsules.
posted by dogcat at 7:23 PM on March 13, 2010


I believe that there is good research to support the use of exercise to reduce anxiety. Antedoctally, I have a friend who found that yoga was really helpful and so was a regular practice of meditation. It is not as easy as popping pills but I have been told by a psychiatrist that research supports for mild to moderate anxiety, exercise and meditation are as effective as medication at the six month point.
posted by metahawk at 7:26 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


The other thing I saw at my local pharmacy was just called GABA, and it was kind of an anxiolytic cocktail including a whole bunch of different supplements.

GABA is an important neurotransmitter, but it doesn't cross the blood-brain barrier, so if you want it to do anything, you'd better be prepared to inject it through your skull.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:27 PM on March 13, 2010


I just don't want to waste my money on a bunch of herbal remedies

Then don't take anything that hasn't been shown effective in clinical trials and vetted by your doctor. The long and short of it is that virtually all alternative "remedies" are wastes, because efficacy and safety move them into the class of prescribed drugs.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:30 PM on March 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


I use L-Theanine regularly for low-level anxiety. It doesn't do anything drastic but it does seem to take the edge off. And I sleep better if I take it at bedtime.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:40 PM on March 13, 2010


Just to be clear...the GABA pills combine a bunch of different supplements which affect that particular neurotransmitter.

And I'd recommend searching scholar.google.com for some of the herbal/alternative treatments you're interested in. There's a lot of crap out there, for sure - but I wouldn't lump all alternatives to prescription antidepressants/anxiolytics into the "waste" category.
posted by pilibeen at 7:48 PM on March 13, 2010


B vitamins and exercise. Ever since I started taking a B-vitamin complex, along with my multi-vitamin, my mood and stress levels have improved greatly---especially at work.
posted by hooray at 7:57 PM on March 13, 2010


L-Theanine (pure, Suntheanine branded, not the cheap stuff, TRUST ME) helped me somewhat. It gave me very painful headaches after ceasing use, however.

I would stray far, far away from phenibut. Yes, it can help with anxiety, but more often than not it will bring it back worse than before when your tolerance maxes out and it doesn't work anymore. Again, please trust me on this. Phenibut "withdrawal" is anxiety-ridden-hell.

You might want to look into Kanna - i've heard good things about this one and do plan on ordering it soon.

And finally...

K R A T O M

Don't be put off by the fact that this does, in fact, act on opiate receptors in the brain. It is a cheap, highly effective means of obtaining legitimate anxiety relief and it has been an absolute lifesaver for me (I suffer from self-diagnosed BPD with diagnosed GAD and major depression. Yeah, I'm loads of fun.)

Kratom is legal in the USA, but is under the DEA watchlist because of it's opiate action. This is not a prescription painkiller. The withdrawal it can cause, like many legal products, is noticable but, and trust me again on this, nowhere near the hells of prescription painkiller withdrawal. And withdrawal is no concern as long as you can be responsible, as with any brand of coffee, alcohol, and prescription medicines for anxiety.

MeMail if you'd like to discuss this more. Anxiety remedies are something I've been studying for years because I learned years ago that prescription drugs like alprazolam (Xanax) are a very, very slippery slope.

Finally, good luck with your anxiety. I don't know quite how bad yours may be but regardless it can be very debilitating and I know it can be worst than any physical pain.
posted by deacon_blues at 8:03 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh! And as hooray mentioned, exercise and a good B-Vitamin complex are incredibly helpful supplements to anything else you might be interested in try.
posted by deacon_blues at 8:06 PM on March 13, 2010


Be wary of taking herbal supplements for serious ailments. The regulation of the herbal industry is nowhere in the ballpark of actual medications. Different brands of supplements can have widely differing non-active ingredients, different qualities of active ingredients that affect things like toxicity and uptake within the body. Different lots of things that essentially mean you may not be taking what you think you are and the variance from brand to brand will be huge compared to what you would get from a prescription.

If you're looking for real information anecdotes from site members is not the place to do it.

This said, St Johns Wort has been clinically proven to help with anxiety. The individual supplement you take may not, however. Be careful with how much you take and what you take it with, and don't fall into the natural=good fallacy. These supplements can be just as dangerous as medications. Follow the directions on the bottle.
posted by smoke at 8:13 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


You don't specify, but I wanted to ask - do you smoke cigarettes, by any chance? Because cigarettes actually CAUSE anxiety.

The one thing I've done in the last 20 years that successfully reduced my background levels of anxiety was quit smoking. Hand to gawd, it's the truth!

If you chart anxiety levels of a smoker, they increase as the nicotine leaves your bloodstream. Up and up and up, and then you eventually have a smoke and they drop - DOWN to normal! (Actually an elevated read above normal - call it "baseline" then.)

The cigarette tricks you into thinking that it's reducing your anxiety, because of that drop. But really it's causing that anxiety, because your anxiety levels only go up because of the nicotine addiction's effect on your brain chemistry.

Ignore those who say quitting smoking increases your anxiety levels, it's totally not the case. More detail available here in the magic book, Alan Carr's The Easy Way to Quit Smoking.
posted by ErikaB at 8:14 PM on March 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


deacon_blues, do you have any recommendations for sources for kratom or kanna?
posted by pilibeen at 8:22 PM on March 13, 2010


This said, St Johns Wort has been clinically proven to help with anxiety. The individual supplement you take may not, however. Be careful with how much you take and what you take it with, and don't fall into the natural=good fallacy.

Except if you're going to take St. John's Wort you are better off getting a prescription for an SSRI. That way you have an exact, known dosages. You have absolutely no idea the potency, etc, of what you're getting with St. John's Wort.
posted by Justinian at 8:44 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Passionflower Tea. Tastes like soapy dishwater, but I found it helpful for soothing agitation, particularly the type where something starts bothering you and you can not let go of it. Couldn't tell you anything about the science there (bad me!).

On the subject of taking herbals in general: Do NOT assume that anything that is natural is 'perfectly safe.' I worked at a healthfood store as one of my first jobs. I can still hear one young lady groaning, "Mooooom! It's natural! It won't hurt you!" I could name dozens, if not hundreds of perfectly natural things that can kill you, starting with a long list of mushrooms. Educate yourself before before ingesting stuff and always be skeptical of manufacturer claims!

And regarding mental health remedies in general: Different people have very different reactions to different compounds. Do not regard any remedy as a "one-size-fits-all" proposition. If mental health were that easy, we'd all be feeling much better by now.
posted by Ys at 9:02 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Burning incense works short-term for me, and you can find incense sticks insanely cheap on EBay.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:31 PM on March 13, 2010


I will second the meditation bit. It not only helps with anxiety, but in general mood balance as well.
posted by edgeways at 9:45 PM on March 13, 2010


You realize that benzodiazepines are a classic example of pharmaceutical depressants, right?

Okay, well you've got me on the technical front. But there's a clear difference between the depressive effects of alcohol and those of benzos. Big and clear difference.

Eh. If you're going to forgo medical advice completely, as the asker intends to, why not just go whole hog? Beer's cheap, at least.

The OP is not forgoing medical advice, he/she is looking for cheap alternatives. And alcohol, while it may be cheap, is certainly not an alternative to anxiety medication.

I know it sounds all fun to say "drink your problems away", and, well, it's fun to do now and then. But it's a way to let loose, it's not a therapeutic solution, and in the long term it will be damaging.
posted by hiteleven at 9:51 PM on March 13, 2010


Then don't take anything that hasn't been shown effective in clinical trials and vetted by your doctor. The long and short of it is that virtually all alternative "remedies" are wastes, because efficacy and safety move them into the class of prescribed drugs.

This, 1000x over. Very few of these herbal supplements have any clinical data to support them, and that's not for lack of independent studies. Valerian root has some data to support its use as a sedative. Kava has some limited data to support its use as an anxiolytic, and ditto St. John's Wart for depression. Virtually everything else mentioned in this thread has little to no evidence to support its use. Personally, I've tried Valerian and Kava and did not notice any effects, but don't take my (or anyone else's) word for it. Anecdotes are worth nothing in the realm of psychopharmacology, because the placebo effect is generally about as strong as most drugs, so it really takes double-blind studies to sort things out.

Herbal supplements are often more expensive than generic prescription medications. They generally have fewer side effects; this is because, more often then not, they have no appreciable effects on the body. Like prescription drugs, they are produced by large and not-particularly-nice corporations. Some herbal supplements are synthetic, some are derived from natural sources. The only difference between the two is that the former results in a product of higher purity. Or, rather, it would if the production was regulated by the FDA, but herbal supplements are not, so you really don't know what you're getting. I mean this literally—there are no independent agencies that validate the ingredients or purity claims of herbal supplements. Caveat emptor.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:53 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'm with the previous commenters about St Johns Wort, with a caveat. When I spoke to my GP about SSRIs and mentioned I'd previously been taking St Johns Wort as a natural alternative, she politely scoffed at me and, more generally, people who take "natural" remedies without considering that their effects can be as problematic as prescription medication - maybe more so because we are often uninformed when we take them.

My recommendation is to try something like St Johns Wort, but please consult with your GP beforehand and explicitly state you want herbal or natural options, not prescriptions.

I'm in NZ and don't know if you have this available in pharmacies where you are, but I have friends with anxiety who use Rescue Remedy (ignore the feminine slant on their marketing) on an as-needed basis. Said friends recommend that particular product to everyone.
posted by tracicle at 10:01 PM on March 13, 2010


Yes, Saint John's Wort has big problems assicated with it. It will screw with the metabolism of virtually all other drugs by both inhibiting and inducing CYP enzymes. It also leads to photosensitivity reactions, retinal sensitivity to light, occasional stevens johnson syndrome, and probably arrythmias in some people.

Saint John's Wort is basically an SSRI. I have personally used it. I will tell you that, based on my chemistry knowledge, it is probably at least somewhat mutagenic. Look at the rings on that baby. That hypericin is epoxide city and thats probably why the drug has all the liver issues, too.

Stick to modern pharmaceuticals if you want something safer and more effective. Plants don't have everything.
posted by candasartan at 10:44 PM on March 13, 2010


I take vitamins every day.

If you are taking B6 daily, stop taking them for awhile. I don't know the physiological reasoning behind this statement, but from personal experience and those of my friends, too much B6 can exacerbate anxiety.
posted by Kerasia at 11:55 PM on March 13, 2010


I have tried out a couple of ayurvedic herbs, the one I tried for anxiety was called Ashwaganda (I'm sure there are better links out there). FWIW, I found it made no difference to me, neither good nor bad. I read how effective it had been for others through their accounts on forums, and its effects sounded wonderful. Anyway, I'm not going to rubbish it just because it did not work for me, as we all respond differently to different things. Good Luck.
posted by Sarosmith at 3:41 AM on March 14, 2010


I've recently started considering herbal/alternative treatments for anxiety. I was taking Xanax b'c of some overwhelming stress and anxiety from a career-related thing; the stuff made me amazingly mean and irritable. I was nasty with friends and nearly started fights with my fellow public transit passengers, which, in my neighborhood, is potentially deadly. Scary thing: I was taking only .5mg per day!

A friend recommended Zanaprin - which I haven't tried and haven't researched enough yet. So far, all the information on it seems to be coming from sellers of it, so... I'm not buying into it yet. I just wanted to mention it because it hasn't been mentioned above.

I will vouch for Rescue Remedy, though (linked in a comment above). Good stuff and easy to take (four drops under the tongue).
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 10:04 AM on March 14, 2010


FWIW, OP, Rescue Remedy is a placebo. If that's what you're looking for, that's cool. Placebo can be pretty effective for anxiety. But don't think it actually does anything; it's a tiny bit of various flowers in water. Developed by a homeopath who decided what flowers to include based on his psychic connection to the flowers.
posted by Justinian at 11:14 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


A problem with herbal supplements is that there is not great quality control out there. For instance, one brand of Kava kava worked very well for me, but another had no effect. To find out what works, you might have to waste a bunch of money through trial and error to find the best brands.
iherb.com generally has the cheapest prices.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 4:34 PM on March 14, 2010


If you want natural, you can't do better than what your body can produce from regular exercise. However, if you want relief WITHOUT physical exertion try diaphragmatic breathing (aka, deep belly breathing.)
posted by m@f at 11:06 PM on March 14, 2010


dogcat, the discussion you posted about 5-HTP is from 1997-2002. Seems people are still taking the bundle 5-HTP + B-Vitamins. Wonder if anything transpired in the meantime? ...Btw. 5-HTP works for me, most days. Only on some, isolated days (not sure which) it actually seems to make things worse. Not sure if I should recommend it.
posted by yoHighness at 5:37 AM on March 15, 2010


a friend highly recommends Tension Tamer Extra Tea. It's from celestial seasonings (I think) and has a woman in a red dress on a dragon on the box. Anything with a dragon has my vote. :)
posted by Neekee at 9:25 AM on March 15, 2010


just a note that st john's wort may interact with hormonal birth control. good luck to you!
posted by sucre at 7:35 PM on March 15, 2010


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